Shame. You know I’m a big fan of Shame–dissecting it and putting it down, not being mired in it. I’ve talked a lot about this. You know I’m a huge cheerleader for feeling Enough and being Kind to myself. Much to the dismay and detriment of my kids’ PTA, I no longer feel compelled to volunteer unless it fits into my life. Much to the dismay of my boss who tries to be a mentor, I’ve turned down promotions. Much to the dismay of my children, it doesn’t faze me to walk out in public with unkempt hair and ratty gym clothes. I had this Shame thing down!
You’ve read a lot about me rehabbing my pinched nerve, arthiritic knees and bashed up brain. I worked with a trainer for post-concussion rehab. We were working on increasing my heart rate while adding rotary head movements to make sure the symptoms did not return. We did squats and rows and shoulder presses and box jumps and lots of other fun things. In front of a mirror.
The trainer pointed out that my poor form did nothing to help my knee pain. I laughed and said I have always had poor form. He gave me some pointers, that I couldn’t use. Because I couldn’t actually see myself in the mirror.
I refused to look at myself in the mirror. I would look straight ahead, facing the mirror, but would fix my stare at something over my shoulder, or above my head, or the floor, or off to the side. I literally could not bear to look at myself in the mirror working out. I realized I have never been able to. Hello, Body Shame.
Sure, I can look at myself in the mirror getting dressed, brushing my teeth, trying on clothes–any other time. But there’s something about seeing myself working out. I. Disgust. Myself.
There. I said it. Out loud. Most of the time I’m pretty self-assured and confident. I am not usually concerned about my physical appearance. I have a pretty healthy sense of self (or so I thought). Most of the time I think I’m pretty hot (Ha!). Until I see myself in the gym mirror. It doesn’t even matter what I objectively look like. It matters that most of the time I believe I am beautiful because I know I am kind and smart and brave and funny and good-hearted. What matters even more though, is that all of that goes away the second I catch a glimpse of myself.
Then, I am filled with self-loathing and disgust and self-hatred. I don’t see a strong, fit, fierce, capable woman. I don’t see the pride in my accomplishments. I see an abdomen that has seen better days. I see arms that aren’t photoshopped. I see legs that aren’t defined enough.
I’m not sharing this to fish for compliments. In fact, I don’t really care what anyone thinks about me; now I care more about what I think of myself. Unfortunately there are one too many moments I don’t think highly of myself. I know I have inspired men and women to push themselves to create and meet goals they hadn’t considered possible before. I know I am strong and fierce and scrappy and resilient. I know I am fit and healthy. I am proud of my physical accomplishments. Most of the day, most days, I’m in a great place mentally about who I am. But put me in front of the mirror in the gym, and the disgust I feel for myself is palpable. I repulse myself. That’s a problem.
I share this precisely because this is a problem. Because I have not met a woman who did not have a trigger of body shame. I have friends who won’t wear dresses because of shame about their hips and butt, or won’t wear shorts because of shame about cellulite, or won’t wear tank tops because of shame about their arms, or literally won’t walk out of the house without make-up on.
We need to acknowledge we all have our insecurities and we’re all chasing an ideal of Perfection that does not exist. And instead of accepting our bodies and celebrating our selves, we cover them with make-up or long clothing or surgery. Or starve ourselves or over-exercise. Or refuse to look at myself in the mirror at the gym.
We sever a part of ourselves. We abandon a part of who we are. This is not OK. So what do we do about this? Don’t look at me–I don’t know. Hell, if I did, do you think I’d be writing about this? But I think like most issues, this is complex and there are several things we need to change.
One is the collective tearing down of our selves.
One is practicing kindness to ourselves.
One is the meaning we foist on our outsides.
One is perspective.
Dove® conducted a social experiment that was brilliant. It was so striking it brought tears to my eyes. See it here. The take-home messages are that you are more beautiful than you think. You don’t recognize your own beauty. Our self-perceptions are so strikingly disparate from objective reality.
We’re also our own worst collective enemies–as women, we compare ourselves and compete against each other about our perceived flaws in a sick way of connecting with each other: “Oh you think you have a fat ass? Check out my thighs!!…Oh you’ve got nothing on my Mommy belly!!” It’s a twisted point of bonding and connection between women. But how does this help us?
It doesn’t. We need to start talking about our perceptions and the meaning we put behind them without one-upping the perceived flaws. We need to acknowledge the shame and inadequacy we feel behind each bump or roll or pound or wrinkle. And then to truly connect, we need to be kind and compassionate to each other, and to ourselves. We would not want our children to think these thoughts about themselves. We would never say such things to them. But we say these things to ourselves daily.
We tell our children they are beautiful because they are kind and good and capable. We don’t judge them by their outsides. We teach them not to judge others by appearances. Why? Because we are more than our outer appearances. I am more than my body parts. The size and shape of my hips say nothing about the character of my being. My biceps don’t tell you how big my heart is. So be kind to each other, and to yourself.
And remember that this soft belly birthed two amazing human beings. These lines on my face show how much laughter I’ve experienced and how many tears I’ve survived. This skin tag? I don’t know what the fuck that’s about, but it’s there too. The point is we need to examine the meaning we place on our “flaws.” It’s about worthiness–we think wrinkles mean you’re old, and thus not young and hip and vibrant anymore. Less than. We think the 10 extra pounds mean we’re not as attractive and loveable as we could be and should be. More than, yet still not Enough.
Let’s also not forget about perspective, and gratitude. Those thighs you think are riddled with cellulite? They keep you mobile so you can run after your kids in the park. The arms you think are too flabby? They allow you to hug your loved ones. We need to keep perspective–bask in the gratitude of what your body can do. Remember, we’re not perfect–and it can always be worse. We’re not perfect, and we’re not supposed to be. Nothing changes once you’re thin enough, or muscular enough, or pretty enough, because there won’t ever be Enough.
We all agree society’s beauty standards are unrealistic, but we don’t seem to know how to readjust those standards. I think it’s the constant practice of reminding ourselves to be kind to ourselves and to each other, of reminding ourselves that our outsides don’t speak about our insides, of reminding ourselves to be grateful for what we do have. We’re bombarded by Not-Enough messages daily. We need to make a point of being active with our kindness and perspective.
Now, please excuse me. I need to go spend some time staring kindly at myself in the mirror.